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Title: Artist-run initiatives : a study of cultural construction
Authors: Coffield, Emma Jane
Issue Date: 2015
Publisher: Newcastle University
Abstract: This thesis presents research carried out at three artist-run initiatives (ARIs), all based in the United Kingdom: 85A in Glasgow, Empty Shop in Durham and The Mutual in Glasgow. In each instance, it is argued that members of these ARIs actively produced distinct ‘cultures’, understood here as ‘maps of meaning’ (Clarke et al. 1993 [1976]: 10), that in constructing reality in certain ways further acted to legitimate certain kinds of ‘art’ and certain kinds of ‘artist’ for those involved. To conduct this enquiry, the thesis brings into contact a number of disciplines that do not often meet, including the analytic philosophy of art, the sociology of art, identity theory and educational research, and employs three mains lenses for enquiry: membership, identity and ‘learning’. The thesis argues that members in each of the three ARIs, through their ‘lived participation’ (Wenger 1998) of membership, constructed and navigated distinct cultures so as to ‘frame’ (Goffman 1974) particular artistic practices and artworks as salient, and to construct places in the world where they might ‘matter’ (Guibernau 2013: 28). Members further self-identified in relation to these cultures (Jenkins 2008), producing narratives (Ricoeur 1991) that would allow them to be heard as meaningful, and which at times allowed for a transformation of the self, whereby members were able to validate desired artistic identities, or to re-position themselves as increasingly confident and able. Further, although members did not necessarily indicate that they had joined the ARI in order to learn, they invariably suggested particular forms of learning that ‘pushed’ them to develop, to work in new ways, and to become artists of certain kinds. Here then, the everyday nature of meaning-making is writ large, for even the most ‘ordinary’ of tasks was nevertheless imbued with cultural and political ideals of the artist, and was frequently suggested to have resulted in artworks that would not, or could not, have been made in the same way elsewhere. However, while some members were able to draw upon the culture constructed within the ARI to significantly transform themselves, by no means were all members able to do likewise. As such, the thesis presents instances of cultural construction, and understandings of the categories of ‘art’ and ‘artists’, that were profoundly local, complex, unequal and at times, fraught. The thesis concludes by calling for more critical research into ARIs as key sites in the production of culture, and for an approach that takes seriously the ‘potent emotional content’ of identity-work, belonging and membership (Guibernau 2013: 2) within ARIs. It further considers the wider ramifications of such instances of cultural construction, both for understandings of ‘art’ and ‘artist’ more generally, and as a methodology for the study of artistic and non-artistic cultures that is ‘possible in practice’ (Peräkylä 2004) for those similarly seeking to discover who can do what in the world, who can be what, and how.
Description: PhD Thesis
Appears in Collections:School of Arts and Cultures

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